SAN DIEGO—Company culture is the most important element inrecruiting, developing and retaining talent that will movebrokerages forward, said speakers at MBA'sIndependent Mortgage Brokers Conference herethis week. A firm's culture can mean the difference between successand failure and can be used as a selling point for recruiting andretaining strong employees.

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During the session “Recruiting, Developing and Retaining Talentto Move Your Company Forward,” moderator BillEmerson, 2015 MBA chairman-elect and CEO ofQuicken Loans Inc., pointed out the difficulty offinding young talent interested in the independent mortgagebrokerage business, since the average age of a mortgage broker is54. “Where will this new group of brokers come from?” He askedpanelists how they get started in the mortgage industry, and allthree said the industry really found them instead of vice-versa.Most, in fact, said they had stumbled into it.

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Hiring loan originators has changed over the past decade, thepanelists also said. Tony Thompson, regionalmanager for Guaranteed Rate Inc., said that 10years ago, “you were great because of who you knew and what youcould deliver. You were comfortable with the platform, and that wasenough. Now, a guy or girl 10 years into the industry is wonderingif they can still be a top originator.” He pointed out that softskills such as critical thinking are important for today's crop oforiginators.

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Thompson added that operations people have become moreimportant, so the ability to manage relationships is important.“The core key to success is the operations skillset.”

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Susan Meitner, president and CEO ofCentennial Lending Group LLC, agreed withThompson, adding, “As soon as originators embrace technology, itwill be easier for them to get along. Some of these older dogs needto do that. We need to educate the originators and the generalpublic.”

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Julie Piepho, president, national operations,for Cornerstone Home Lending Inc., said teams aremore important now than in the past. “I see almost a doctorapproach, what the customer contacts us through the website, wecall the customer; then, the production partner goes over all thebasics with the customer like a nurse would. Then, the loan officercomes in and goes over the product.” She added that she sees biggerteams vs. solo ventures as the field progresses.

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When Emerson asked the panelists who is being hired—the samegroup of employees or a new group—and why new employees might wantto be originators, Piepho said, “I'm excited about today's loanofficers. They're 20- or 30-somethings who fell into it,” but wantto advance. They're entrepreneurial, but they also need therelationship skills to be successful, so they're “playing baseball,softball and soccer” with customers. It's more social, and it'seasier for them because it's their friends.” She also points outthe importance of mentoring young talent even before they get theirlicense.

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Thompson said most brokerage firms would prefer to have a$100-million producer today rather than waiting five years for thatproducer to develop his skills, so there's a lack of patience atthe hiring level. “Everyone is looking to grow revenue, so theyhire people who have been successful in the past, but that may notbe the case” in their new environment. It takes a lot of energy toget the level of production you're looking for from an employee.There will only be so many good producers five years from now, sowe need to find new places to find originators.”

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Meitner recommends getting creative, saying she partnered aSpanish-speaking loan processor with a seasoned originator whoneeded that language skill. “Trying things people haven't donebefore is good. If somebody hadn't taken a risk on me, where wouldI be today? Youth can be a good thing.”

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The question of hiring from a bank or a non-bank background wasraised, and Piepho said it's more common to look for an IMB with abook of business already done. A bank originator probably doesn'thave the strong, outside-the-box experience necessary to besuccessful in the independent's environment.

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“You have to understand the culture of the company and whetherthey're building for the long or short term,” said Thompson. “Youhave to understand the platform going in. If you're hiring someonefrom a bank, they have to have a high degree of independentbusiness; they must be an entrepreneur and have a book of businessthat's time tested.”

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Meitner said culture is hugely important when dealing withtalent. Her firm inadvertently got testimonials from its employeeson what makes its culture so special and even put a book togetherwith those testimonials.

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When considering how people want their work experience to be,Thompson said most employees today want synergy. “If I'm good, Iwant to go to great. Every good person wants to improve.” He addedthat it's important to create a positive, non-threatening,energetic environment to show new hires how you do things at yourfirm vs. what they may be used to doing at another firm. “You needto tell them, 'Forget everything and trust my system. If you followthis process, you will be much better than you are today.' ”

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Carrie Rossenfeld

Carrie Rossenfeld is a reporter for the San Diego and Orange County markets on GlobeSt.com and a contributor to Real Estate Forum. She was a trade-magazine and newsletter editor in New York City before moving to Southern California to become a freelance writer and editor for magazines, books and websites. Rossenfeld has written extensively on topics including commercial real estate, running a medical practice, intellectual-property licensing and giftware. She has edited books about profiting from real estate and has ghostwritten a book about starting a home-based business.